Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) advocates for children’s “best interests” in the foster care system by recruiting, training and deploying community advocates called Guardians ad Litem or CASA Volunteers to provide a voice for children in the courts. CASA Volunteers complete a 30-hour “pre-service” training and 12 hours of continuing education per year. Supervised by a staff of professionals, a CASA is assigned to one case (one child or sibling group) from the time the child enters the child welfare system until their case closes. The CASA Volunteer meets with the child regularly, meets with their teachers, doctors, foster and biological family and others in the child’s life to assess their medical, educational, physical and emotional health and needs. They write up their findings in court reports which they present to a judge at every court hearing. Started by a judge and now a national movement with nearly 1000 CASA programs nationwide, it is widely heralded as an effective public/private partnership to ensure the welfare of children in foster care. A CASA Volunteer is assigned to EVERY child in CPS custody in Fort Bend County – an accomplishment very few counties have achieved.
Our CASA Program serves approximately 250-300 children annually ranging in age from newborns to 18+ years old.
The difference between children who have a CASA and those who don’t is dramatic. Children with a CASA have shorter times in foster care, more stability in their lives, a lower incidence of negative outcomes as a result of their abuse, and are better prepared if they “age out” of the system at 18 years old. The CASA Program is so effective because of the one-to-one match between the child and an adult and the personalized approach. No two children are alike and so services and advocacy is different for every child.
In addition to court advocacy, Child Advocates of Fort Bend has developed age-specific programs from birth to 18 -21 years old in a “continuum of care” model. Services include: Infant and Toddler for newborns through 5-year-old children, N.E.S.T. for 6-13 year old children and WINGS for teenagers 14 – 18+ years old. Each program incorporates strategies to help these children achieve educationally, develop positive behaviors and gain healthy life skills. Part of our advocacy services includes help with tutoring children.
What is the Infant and Toddler Program?
The Infant and Toddler program is an outgrowth of a national pilot for Zero To Three ™ in Fort Bend County under the direction of Judge Ron Pope. Now expanded to serve children from newborn to five years old (Pre-K/Kindergarten), this program recognizes that the early years are critical in early childhood development. Advocates monitor children’s health and medical care, cognitive and emotional development and address any issues that may arise. They monitor to ensure that children receive appropriate developmental screenings and medical attention. CASAs are trained to model positive parenting skills and promote positive child-parent visitations. The goal of this program is to expedite permanency plans for children, whether reunification with parents, placement with extended family members or adoption. CASA Advocates visit and monitor younger children more frequently and attend court on a more frequent basis to ensure that these young children do not languish in the system.
What is N.E.S.T.?
Nurturing Education and Social Triumphs (N.E.S.T.) is designed for elementary and early-middle school children ages 6-13 years old build strong foundations in education, health and social interaction. The goal is to establish positive behaviors early in life and ensure that children are on grade level throughout their early years of school. Educational and enrichment workshops and events are offered throughout the year. Personal educational and behavioral goals are established for each child and working with teachers, progress is monitored. Each semester, an incentive party is held to celebrate children’s successes.
Many children removed from their homes and placed in foster care fall behind in school because of the trauma of the abuse, being in a new and strange home or school, possibly being prescribed medications to control behavior, and in many cases, being moved to new foster placements during the time they are in care. For every move, children may lose up to 6 months of academic progress. This is particularly critical during primary grades where children are establishing their foundations for academic performance.
Working closely with teachers and counselors, CASAs can address areas of particular need and help with tutoring children in academic subject matters.
What is WINGS?
Developed by Child Advocates of Fort Bend in 2005, WINGS helps youth ages 14 – 18+ years old flourish in school, develop individualized education plans tailored to their needs, plan for college or higher education or a sustainable career path, and prepare for successful independent living when they age out of the foster care system. WINGS focuses on assisting youth acquire life skills, plan and achieve educational goals, develop a transitional living plan, and create a support system of positive adults outside of the foster care system. Throughout the year, youth participate in interactive, educational activities including a weeklong Life Skills Workshop and weeklong Campus Crawl in the Summers with mini workshops throughout the school year and over holidays. The youth learn about managing their personal finances, writing a resume, job interviewing, personal health care, career opportunities, renting an apartment, buying a car, cooking a meal, and other basic life skills. They explore post-secondary education opportunities by traveling across Texas to visit community colleges, vocational schools, and 4-year colleges and universities to learn about the application process, financial aid, and college life. By setting personal goals, actively managing their future plans and support systems, youth are empowered to build successful, independent lives.
Collaborative Family Engagement
Child Advocates of Fort Bend’s Collaborative Family Engagement (CFE) partnership between Court Appointed Special Advocates and the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services was initiated in 2016. Interagency teams trained and began working together to engage caring adults to support children in the foster care system and build lifetime networks of family, fictive kin, and community members to provide continued support after a child is no longer in the conservatorship of DFPS. CFE is integrated within all of CASA’s specialized program. CASA volunteer advocates are trained to utilize tools that assist in family finding and helping families recognize available support systems to them. Knowing that every child in the child welfare system has experienced trauma to some degree, CFE strives to decrease long-lasting issues and help these children move on with their lives in a family environment. Working together to strengthen families helps provide accountability, safety, placement, permanency and healing. CFE also recognizes children heal through relationships, and that every child has a family who can be found through perseverance.
Child Advocates of Fort Bend employs a Courtesy CASA position to make visits to children for the purpose of ensuring their safety and well-being as well as promote the local CASA program’s relationship with the child and strengthen the local program’s advocacy for the child. The goal of the program is to provide knowledge of well-being and unique needs for children placed outside of their communities to enhance trauma-informed advocacy and to empower children giving them a voice to share their experiences.
Courtesy CASA visits give local programs throughout the state of Texas who have children placed outside of their region the unique benefit of still having a trained CASA visit their child face-to-face. Local CASA programs can request Courtesy CASA visits for children who are in urgent need of an in-person visit that their volunteer or program cannot currently provide.
Once a visit has been made, the Courtesy CASA can report their findings and provide pictures of the children and their placement directly to the local CASA program. The information gathered during the visit allows the primary CASA and their supervisor to make informed recommendations to the judge and ensure the child’s needs are being met.